Tony's take: The road to hope
Entering this past weekend's game on the road in Columbus, D.C. United would not have been satisfied with only one point for a draw, but entering the 75th minute of the match, a draw was certainly an acceptable result. D.C. United showed a lot of pride in the final half hour against Columbus, much more than they had shown in their previous five road matches. Even though the tie still has them four points behind the Crew in the standings, United seems ready to make a final push for the playoffs in the tightly packed Eastern Conference.
D.C. only has one road win all year, which came on May 29 in a 1-0 game against the New England Revolution. Early in the season, United fought very hard on the road, even though it didn't translate into victories. In their first road game of the year, they battled Los Angeles for a 1-1 draw and, a few weeks after that, D.C. came from behind on the road to tie San Jose. This weekend United showed the determination they had in the early part of the year, throwing players forward to find the equalizer that eventually came from the penalty spot when Jaime Moreno converted on the club's first penalty kick of the season.
Moreno's penalty saved D.C. United from what could have been a near critical situation, and instead of mounting frustration, United now should have an increasing sense of optimism for the home stretch. Moreno and Alecko Eskandarian are continuing to be a very dangerous striking tandem. Against Columbus they each scored, and Eskandarian's beautiful free kick was worthy of Goal of the Week award.
D.C. managed to come from behind without a couple of key players. Ben Olsen served a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation, and his return to the line-up will certainly provide an emotional lift for his teammates next weekend. Also, team captain Ryan Nelsen is close to returning after his abdominal surgery, and his return will add confidence and leadership to a back line that has done a good job in his absence. Brandon Prideaux and Bryan Namoff both played very well against Columbus.
In addition to the players that D.C. United will be getting back, there is another player who is new to the team that should make a serious impact very soon: Christian Gomez. Gomez entered the Columbus match as a substitute in the 71st minute and it was evident that his appearance truly helped United earn the draw. Gomez played a simple style, but he helped D.C. United maintain possession of the ball while Columbus was anxious to try and get the game-winning goal. He demonstrated great vision of the field and, once he becomes a little more accustomed to his teammates, you can expect the assists to start coming.
Another reason why D.C. United should be hopeful over the final two months of the season is the fact that United has one of the best-kept secrets in Major League Soccer. Dema Kovalenko has put together a great (albeit under-recognized) season for D.C. United. Kovalenko has eight assists this year, only one behind Landon Donovan - the league leader. Kovalenko has also been forced to play slightly out of position. Last season, Kovalenko led D.C. United with 6 goals and was named team MVP. This season he has sacrificed his individual attacking play for the welfare of the team. Kovalenko has helped D.C. United cope with the fact that they haven't really had a true creative midfielder. But now that Gomez should fill that role, expect Kovalenko to make more of his enthusiastic runs into the penalty area on his way to more goals.
It will be an interesting final eight weeks of the season in the Eastern Conference. Only nine points separate the top team from the cellar dweller and, with so many intra-conference matches remaining, even the MetroStars must be a little concerned about securing a playoff spot. Of United's remaining matches, only one is against a team from the Western Conference, so to say that they control their own destiny is an understatement. Two more road games are ahead for United in the next two weeks, and even though they still only have one victory all season away from RFK Stadium, they enter the match in New England with a little boost from the game in Columbus. Confidence should also increase for United since their only road win of the year came in Gillette Stadium. Hopefully, this confidence will continue to lead to positive results.
Tony Limarzi provides live match commentary for all D.C. United games in English on WMET. He also contributes a column to dcunited.com, which runs every Monday.